The Battle Sylph - L.J. McDonald
I was lucky enough to win an ARC of The Battle Sylph on Twitter. And I thank the book fairy goddess for gracing me with the luck of having an early chance to read this.This is the start of a new fantasy romantic series by début author, L. J. McDonald. The world-building and setting is similar to that of Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, and the epic feel and tone of C. L. Wilson’s Tairen Soul series.In the land of Eferem, the King and powerful Lords enslave and use elemental beings called Sylphs to do their bidding. Their powers are linked to elemental forces such as: air, fire, water and earth. But there are battle Sylphs who are used as powerful weapons due to the destructive nature of their shapeshifting abilities, and aggressive personalities. For battle Sylphs in particular, they must serve and bond with a queen which grounds them and also calms them – although in the human realm, men have used and taken advantage of this link to enslave them.The first chapter starts off with a bang and consists of an abduction that leads to a bungled sacrifice, as well as one of the most unique introductory meetings between a hero and heroine I have read. In fact, I have to quote their first meeting because it was pretty humorous – despite the hectic events surrounding them – due to the heroine Solie, who instead of dying, names the Battle Sylph, thereby becoming its mate and master: What had the King said? Name it. “Hey, you,” she managed, barely able to speak at all, she was so frightened. She swallowed, trying to get her tongue untied enough to ask its name, and it breathed warm air on her. Heyou, it repeated softly, the sound echoing in her mind. Had she just named it?Solie is unaware of the repercussions of linking up with an elemental/spiritual being, especially a very powerful and destructive one. And she finds herself on the run with him with their would-be captors on their tails: an influential Lord, and the King’s very own right hand man.Although Heyou is a powerful elemental being, and can easily wipe out a whole contingent of soldiers, it was a nice surprise to see him as being young and inexperienced. This is a nice change to read about, as not only is he a match for Solie who is also young and inexperienced, but the fact that L. J. McDonald has turned this trope of an alpha/powerful hero on it’s head – usually the heroes are much older than their heroines, and either have a tortured past or their life experiences have left them jaded and/or world weary. IMO, this sometimes can overshadow and overwhelm their heroines which can affect the relationship and romance, but it’s a trope that’s almost clichéd. So it was really refreshing to see both being on an equal footing – in terms of their outlook of the new environment they find themselves in.The evolution of their romance was fun to read about, as it was more light hearted. And it was quite refreshing to read, particularly in contrast to the grim events that occur in the book. However, I did have slight qualms in the beginning because there was a mating bond that Heyou and Solie forge between themselves, and considering their ages, I didn’t think this would work because of the power of imbalance it would bring.Yet this was part of the world-building, and the bonds with which the Battle Sylphs and other Sylphs have, must be linked with a human so they can remain in the human lands. Solie’s and Heyou’s bond was the only link that entailed a true mating, and was healthy compared to those who enslaved the Sylphs and regarded them as sub-human. I also loved the fact that Solie was unsure of Heyou’s intentions, and despite the fact she later realises that she has more power over their bond, she is fair and sees him as a person in his own right.However despite their ages and inexperience, both Heyou and Solie later find themselves as leaders of a group of rag-tag rebels, living with their bonded Sylphs in peace who have settled in a rugged and forgotten part of the kingdom. I liked that even though Heyou is powerful, and can become very temperamental due to his age, there were other Battle Sylphs in the book who were older, and more experienced than him. And I really liked that he would step back, and learn from those around him instead of assuming full control and making careless mistakes.The supporting characters were also a gem to read, like the traveller Galway, who comes across Heyou during his time on the run. Heyou’s interactions with Galway not only give him insights about the world around him, but were also filled with quiet humour which made me chuckle out loud. Heyou soon finds that Galway is a father figure that he never had, and I look forward to seeing more of Galway in future books.I cannot wait to see what will happen to Heyou’s fellow Battle Sylph, Ril, whose love/hate relationship with his master was one of the highlights for me in the book. Their relationship was filled with conflicting emotions, and Ril’s pent up resentment of his enslavement and his love of his captor’s daughter was heart-rending (note: she is in her early teens, and although he views her as his Queen, there was no imprinting or magical bonding) as he views her as a lifeline as well as the hope she can free him from his captivity. He will also feature as the main hero in the next book in this series, The Shattered Sylph, which I cannot wait to read.The Battle Sylph is a fantastic start to a series. L. J. McDonald has captured humour, romance and imagination with a deft touch that has set many established tropes on their heads. This is a wonderful fantasy romance, with engaging and humorous characters and I am eagerly looking forward to the next book. Heyou’s and Solie’s romance was a joy to read, especially since it wasn’t something that I expected.I give The Battle Sylph 4.5 out of 5. And it’s offically released on the 23rd, February.